Bacon Bits: Adventures in Transportation Policy

How “complete streets” helped revive a small town. Hopewell, best known for its kepone spill in the James River, is nobody’s idea of a progressive community. But perhaps it should be. The city of 22,000 is leading the way in designing bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly “complete streets,” writes Greater Greater Washington‘s Virginia correspondent. Three years after City Council committed to boost the health of its population by encouraging walking, outdoor recreation and nutritious food, its streetscape improvements have won a designation as a Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) platinum standard community. The shift to walkability has coincided with the creation of 25 new businesses downtown and 70 new jobs. Said Evan Kaufman, executive director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership: “Hopewell is one of those cities in which 10 years ago not many people had much hope for the future, but following Main Street and complete streets principles have changed the city in a way few people thought possible.”

Richmond’s fare skipper problem. By one measure, Richmond’s transit system is doing great: Ridership is up 15% since the launch of the Pulse Bus Rapid Transit system in June 2018. But lax enforcement on the transit line has lost revenue for the cash-strapped system, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The transit system, GRTC, cannot even quantify how prevalent fare skippers are. “Without an accurate fare evasion rate, GRTC may be unable to assess the severity of fare evasion and its financial impact,” states a new report from the Richmond city auditor. GRTC estimates that riders who evade the $1.50 fare account for 12% to 14% of the Pulse’s 5,400 average daily ridership. On paper, then, fare skippers account for some $360,000 a year in lost revenue. But who knows… if forced to pay their fares, how many would bother to take the Pulse in the first place?

Metro, Union strike contract deal. The Washington Metro has agreed to a four-year labor contract with its largest union. The transit agency will give up its strategy of privatizing some operations in exchange for… what… well, that’s not exactly clear, According to the Washington Post, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld moved to privatize several Metro operations in order to contain expenses and stay within a 3% cap on the annual growth in subsidies negotiated as a condition for a boost in financial support from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. ATU Union Local 689, with about 800 members, has been on strike, shutting down or reduce Metrobus routes used by about 8,500 riders daily.

A joint statement said that the new labor deal “would create incentives for better customer service, enable Metro to live within its legally-required 3 percent subsidy growth cap, and create a path to bring in-house work performed at Cinder Bed Road bus garage and on the Silver Line.” The deal reportedly “has benefits for both labor and management” but no details on wages and benefits were released.

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7 responses to “Bacon Bits: Adventures in Transportation Policy

  1. 1. I plan to visit Hopewell and check out the new downtown. It sounds good.
    2. First, I don’t understand why GRTC would design a transit route for which it is so easy to evade the fare. Second, this story illustrates one of my pet peeves: the myth of privatization. Although the headline and story faults GRTC, it is really the private company that the transit system hired to enforce its fares that is at fault. GRTC agreed to pay this company $475,000 this year to provide fare enforcement services. Yet, auditors rode the new bus line 58 times during a one-week period and on 37 of those rides, or 64% of the time, no fare enforcement officer was on the bus. On 8 of the 30 encounters with fare enforcement officers, they did not ask for a ticket at all. The city code provides for a hefty fine for not paying a bus fare. However, the fare enforcement officers are not qualified to issue civil summonses because of insufficient training. So much for the argument that the private sector can always do something better than government. The transit authority should fire this company and do the work itself or hire another contractor.

    • The whole point of privatizing a service like fare collections is that if the private company screws up, it is easy to fire! GRTC just has to do its job, as any customer should to, of holding its vendor accountable.

      If the GRTC relied upon its own employees to do the work, firing incompetents would be much more difficult. They have the usual civil service and/or union protections.

      • Oh the GTRC plays an important role if it is writing the requirements and specs for the contract.

        How in the world did the GTRC write a contract that PAYS for drivers AND “enforcement officers”? That’s bizarre and an uber budget disaster.

        and this: ” GRTC agreed to pay this company $475,000 this year to provide fare enforcement services. Yet, auditors rode the new bus line 58 times during a one-week period and on 37 of those rides, or 64% of the time, no fare enforcement officer was on the bus. ”

        A half-million dollars a year for fares that average how much per rider? I bet that’s ugly.

  2. I can see the fare skipping issue at turnstiles for METRO but on a bus,
    how do you do that? Turnstiles are cheap compared to “enforcement officers”… geezy peezy… talk about “costs”!

    re: Hopewell. Fredericksburg is working in the same way to make it’s downtown more friendly to pedestrians and bikes and less friendly to cars.

    I think of the places with a certain irony in that almost no one lives, works and shops within the boundaries of these places.. most everyone has to get there in a car – and find parking.

    The bigger world around these enclaves is totally car-centric… and deadly for pedestrians and bikes… according to statistics.

    So .. I’m not sure what to think about these places – they’re almost like a kind/type of “mall”, i.e. large places where people walk – surrounded by mega parking lots for the walkers inside.

  3. Complete streets makes a lot of sense. I think “complete streets” coupled with high density, walkable, mixed use development creates the kind of sustainable human development patterns we need. The hard question is how to get from where we are to that almost utopian view of the future.

    • I’ll go one step further than Complete Streets.

      Basically in the 21st century – we do not have regions that are 100% complete streets. What we have is “pods” of enclaves where we have pedestrian friendly walkable streets.

      What NoVa is doing, not perfectly by any stretch is “connect” them with transit – as well as corridor trail systems so that people can actually go from one pod to another – without a car.

      So, for instance, someone could actually live in one walkable “pod” and use transit or trail to go to work in another walkable “pod”.

      This is actually what would be a GOOD thing for Amazon and other tech companies. There is no way in hades to remake NoVa from it’s current auto-centric hell into a giant “complete street” utopia but it is entirely possible to cultivate more and bigger pods and connect them with transit and trail.

      Of course it takes liberals to do this. Conservatives will have none of it…. they’ll continue to vociferously lobby for car-centric exurban commuting!

    • Been to Tysons lately? The landowners have requested increases in parking minimums in order to accommodate the people who drive to and from Tysons. I live on a 30-foot-wide street with parking on both sides. We regularly see cars and trucks (some hauling construction materials) going by at 40-50 mph to avoid main streets in traveling to and from Tysons. It wasn’t like this before Tysons grew, not even when the Silver Line and HOT Lanes construction was going on. People drive. Development means more and more cars on the road.

      I have a friend who works in Tysons but lives in Silver Spring. She is a strong advocate for transit, bike and ped. The amazing thing is that she walks her talk, taking Metro from MD to Tysons and teleworking. She’s pretty rare, actually walking her talk.

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